If you’re visiting coastal locations such as Carrot Island, Cape Lookout, or any of our beaches this summer, it won’t take long for you to spot the colorful native annual known as blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella).

Blanket flower thrives in hot, sunny locations with sandy, well-drained soils. That makes it a great plant for the immediate coast, but not necessarily a first choice for every inland landscape.

Blanket flower is not tolerant of heavy shade, poor drainage, or regular nitrogen fertilization. In addition, excessive overhead irrigation or prolonged periods of heavy rain and high humidity can encourage leaf and root rot problems.

If you don’t have ideal landscape conditions for blanket flowers, consider growing them in sunny spots in containers, using well-drained container media. You can also experiment with more forgiving varieties belonging to Gaillardia x grandiflora, G. aristata and G. aestivalis. Some of these will function as annuals, and some as short-lived perennials, but in general you can expect brilliant flower colors and interesting variations in flower type and foliage. As a general rule for Gaillardia, occasional removal of dead flowers will extend the period of flower production.

On a May 31 visit to Carrot Island in Carteret County, I noticed lots of blanket flowers in full bloom, with one unfortunately under attack by a parasitic plant known as dodder (Cuscuta spp.). Dodder is easily recognized by the striking yellow to orange color, and the slender, twining growth resembling string trimmer line.

Dodder is quite common in our region, and can parasitize a wide range of plant species. Like a poisonous snake, you never know when or where you might encounter it, but in my experience dodder does seem to show up more frequently in sunny locations. Several sections of open, sunny shoreline along Brice’s Creek in the vicinity of Taberna come to mind, as well as some of the old rice fields at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina.

Control is not easy, but physical removal is certainly an important part of the process. If dodder seed production has begun, it’s important to remove everything as soon as possible, because viable seeds can persist in the soil for years. Be on the lookout for this plant on your property this summer, and remove it wherever you see it.

In the “not a problem” category for this week, brown needles are visible on many of our local pines. Just remember that there’s a big difference between “the pine trees are turning brown” and “a small percentage of older needles near the ends of branches is turning brown.” Normal shedding of old pine needles can occur at various times of the year, and there’s definitely a good bit of that happening as of early June.

The Craven County Extension office will present an insect pest management program on June 16 at 10:30 a.m. Extension Agent Mike Carroll will address beneficial and harmful insects, and encourage an Integrated Pest Management approach that relies on good plant selection and management as the first line of defense in reducing insect damage. Prior to the 10:30 program, a landscape plant selection walk-around will be on the grounds of the Agricultural Building at 9 a.m., followed by a Master Gardener plant sale at 10 a.m. Call us at 633-1477 or email tom_glasgow@ncsu.edu for additional information.

 

Tom Glasgow is the Craven County Cooperative Extension director. He can be reached at tom_glasgow@ncsu.edu.